December 2005 Archives

I'm a Janeite


I belong to all kinds of scholarly and professional associations (The Modern Language Association, the American Association of University Women, Academy of American Poets, etc) and I try to support charitable organizations whose work I value (Red Cross, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, etc) but there's one organization that I knew I'd want to support until I die, so a few years ago, after paying yearly membership dues for a decade, I just went ahead and bought a lifetime membership.

That organization is the Jane Austen Society of North America.

This morning when I got up and checked my email, there was a message from someone at the Jane Austen Society of Western Pennsylvania, inviting me to join the local branch. It's not so very local: The meetings are held an hour or two from where I live, but what the hell--I'll drive a few hours to talk to other Janeites.

For weeks now I've been working on a post about why I didn't like the new film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I'll finish and post it one of these days.... Jane's birthday is coming up--she was born December 16, 1775--and I considered posting about her that day, but there's something else I want to write about then. (Yeah, I actually do plan ahead some times.) But when I got that message this morning, I thought, OK, today it's time to say something about Jane.

She's fabulous, you know? I recently showed all six episodes of the 1995 BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice to a friend, who was pleasantly surprised by how very much he liked it, that it was immediately accessible and very funny. He got a little upset when I turned the television off at the end of episode Four, when Darcy runs into Elizabeth at Pemberly, and couldn't believe how engrossed he was. If I hadn't said, "Sorry, it's time to go home," he would have kept watching because he needed to know exactly how it would all work out!

I admit I'm a little rushed for time today--I've got final papers to grade--so there's plenty to say that I'll wait and say later. Look forward to more on Jane in the next ten days! In the meantime, if you've never read it, check out this short story by Rudyard Kipling, called "The Janeites," about a guy who finds himself in the trenches of World War I in the midst of a secret society devoted to Austen--so devoted, in fact, that they name all their heavy artillery after the heavies in Austen novels--one of their biggest cannons is "Lady Catherine de Bugg."

I've read that during the worst of World War II, Winston Churchill had his daughter read Jane Austen to him every night so that he could relax--her novels managed to transport him in ways that nothing else could, so he might agree with what Humberstall concludes about Jane: "You take it from me, Brethren, there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place. Gawd bless ’er, whoever she was."

I'm Getting in on the Slayage

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I'm happy to report that my proposal for a paper on "Bad Sex in Buffy" has been accepted for the Slayage Conference 2 to be held at the end of May 2006.

Please read all about my introduction to Buffy, and check out this brief reference to my initial attempts to sketch out some broad ideas about the topic. I want to share, because Buffy is my favorite TV show, and I'm thrilled that I'll be able to spend time researching and thinking about the show, and then get to spend a nice long weekend hanging out with other Buffy-philes.

Here's my abstract for the paper I'll be delivering in May:

‘Sex Is Bad?' ‘We All Knew That': Sex and the Consequences in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

After Cordelia recovers from being impregnated with demon spawn, she tells Wesley and Angel she's learned that "sex is bad," to which Angel replies, "We all knew that" (A1012). This is not Caleb's simplistic condemnation of sex as dirty and wicked, but an observation about the consequences of sexual activity in the Buffyverse. Much has been written on the sexualized nature of vampirism, and Justine Larbelestier provides a provocative binary of human (or vanilla) vs vampire (or BD/SM) sex in "The Only Thing Better than Killing a Slayer." But given how the range of characters populating the Buffyverse traverse the roles of human/demon, I argue that sex can't be categorized until after it has occurred (unless it involves someone "old" like Giles or Joyce, and then it's "gross"), and no criticism I've read adequately addresses how perilous sex often is in the Buffyverse, not only for Buffy and her demon lovers but for all the Scoobies. Seemingly "safe" sex not only produces dire consequences (supernatural pregnancy, the loss of one's soul, the need to kill one's lover); sexual behavior often attracts danger from outside the relationship, as when Tara is killed by a wayward bullet after she and Willow resume their relationship (Buffy 6019) or when Willow turns into Warren after kissing Kennedy (7013); furthermore, Anya's very presence reminds us that sex is often used to hurt women and women find ways to hurt back. Everything--even birthday parties--can be dangerous on the hell mouth, but sex is especially dangerous. Inhabitants of the Buffyverse constantly negotiate life-or-death issues of vulnerability and power; I examine how they negotiate vulnerability and power with regards to sex, and why these negotiations so often fail--the earth may not be doomed after all, but what about everyone's sex life?

I'll be most grateful for any suggestions and insights anyone wants to offer.

Women Lousy at Designing Clothes for Women?



I've been taking a break from dealing with certain issues because well, because I need a break. I've been trying to work on a couple of posts, one on the whole nasty debate about a "man's right to choose" sparked by Dalton Conley's December 1st NY Times editorial on the topic, and another on the sexsomnia defense a guy in Canada used to beat a rape charge, but I don't get very far before I get too upset to continue.

Here's something I would dismiss as silly if it weren't for the fact that I really dig textiles and clothing. But the clothes I own are typically things I made myself or bought on sale, and I am of the opinion that haute couture is overpriced, wasteful and misogynist. This article made me think about WHY high fashion might be something the average woman doesn't want, need or have the money for. It's from the NY Times, about why women don't succeed as fashion designers. Among the arguments for why men, either straight or gay, are better than women at designing clothes for women, are these:

In some quarters, the perception exists that fashion's main consumers, women, are more comfortable taking advice about how they should look from a man. "Men are often better designers for women than other women," said Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, who more than anyone in the past decade built a brand on his own persona, that of a man whose sensual appeal is to both men and women. Whereas Bill Blass, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta founded their empires on the strength of a nonthreatening, nonsexual charisma, Mr. Ford aggressively promoted his sexually charged designs. "Of course there are many more gay male designers," Mr. Ford said. "I think we are more objective. We don't come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies."

Some designers embrace an extreme version of this position. Michael Vollbracht, the current designer of Bill Blass, said he believes that gay men are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of a woman as an idealized fantasy. "I come from a time when gay men dressed women," Mr. Vollbracht said. "We didn't bed them. Or at least I didn't. I am someone who is really pro-homosexual. I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not."

When women design for other women, Mr. Ford said, they proceed from a standpoint of practicality - not fantasy. "Sometimes women are trapped by their own views of themselves, but some have built careers around that," he said. "Donna Karan was obsessed with her hips and used her own idiosyncrasies to define her brand."

The Times' article purports to be an expose on the topic, but it doesn't include many women's voices on the matter. It does, however, let a designer named Dana Buchman respond to these arguments. Ms. Buchman "sees little value in such arguments. If men are more objective, she countered, then women are empathetic, which can be useful in understanding the consumer. 'I wear my own clothes,' she said. 'I have lived the life of my customer.'" Yeah, but that's precisely the problem, as Tom Ford kindly points out: she's too caught up in the practical issues of how clothes fit the real bodies and real lives of real women! And since she never wants to f*ck herself the way a straight man would and never sees clearly the aesthetic ideal women should strive to embody the way a certain type of elitist gay man would, she will never know as well as either class of man how to dress herself, or other women.

Breakfast of Chocolate Lovers

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One reason I like posting my favorite recipes is that that way, I can access them away from home. For instance, if I'm traveling over the holidays and I feel like making some of my favorite chocolate treats, it won't matter whether or not I've brought the recipe with me if it's available on my blog.

I absolutely love this cake. The baking powder in the batter means that the batter rises while the boiling water and extra sugar and cocoa sink down through the batter and make a lovely fudge sauce. It's gooey and decadent and easy, and it reheats well--just put a portion in the microwave for 99 seconds or so, then top with sweetened yogurt, and you have a delicious and filling (if not particularly nutritious) breakfast.

Just Freakin' Say No Already


This is something I wrote back in August. I was unwilling to post it at the time because the person it was about was reading my blog. But he's gone, so at long last the post gets posted. It begins with a long quotation from Isak Dinesen's essay "On Mottoes in My Life":

The family of Finch Hatton, of England, have on their crest the device Je responderay, "I will answer.''...I liked it so much I asked Denys... if I might have it for my own. He generously made me a present of it and even had a seal cut for me, with the words carved on it. The device was meaningful and dear to me for many reasons, two in particular. The first...was its high evaluation of the idea of the answer in itself. For an answer is a rarer thing than is generally imagined. There are many highly intelligent people who have no answer at all in them...Secondly, I liked the Finch Hatton device for its ethical content. I will answer for what I say or do; I will answer to the impression I make. I will be responsible.

One thing that drives me crazy is people who can't say no, not in the Ado Annie from Oklahoma! way, but in the general sense of not being able to risk disappointing someone. This affliction affects every segment of the population, but Mormon women seem to have an especially bad case of it. I notice it every year when I go to fill up panels for Sunstone: I'll start gathering names of people I could invite to participate, then email or call them. There's always at least one Mormon woman who simply can't tell me no, though she desperately wants to. She clears her throat, she dodges the question (always invoking an obligation to her family--she's just so busy with the kids!), not wanting to give me a straight answer because she's afraid it will hurt my feelings.

What I want to know is this: why is being led on, strung along, forced to interpret vague clues of resistance, somehow kinder, nicer and more tactful than simply being told, "I'm really sorry, but I have neither the time nor the inclination for what you're proposing, so I'll have to decline your generous offer. I heartily wish you the best of luck in finding someone who's interested"?

A Movie I Won't See


I remember disliking The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis when I read them in fifth grade, though I dutifully made my way through all but the last book in the series of seven: the elementary school librarian, whom I trusted thoroughly, assured me that they were required "great" children's literature, and I wanted to read all such great works. But at some point I just couldn't stomach any more--I found Lewis's books creepy and preachy and mean, and they got worse as the series went on. It was largely because of those books that I was reluctant to read anything else by Lewis: in high school I steered clear of The Screwtape Letters; in college I ignored what he had to say about Mere Christianity.

This review from The Guardian of Disney's new adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book in the series, describes some of the things I had the sense to be bothered by, even as a ten-year-old.

The headline reads, "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion;" the review concludes

So Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children's minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy - but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

Pretty much.

Sixteen days from today, England will allow its first gay marriages to take place. I remember reading in Austen novels about people going to Gretna Green, just over the border in Scotland, and soon realized it was a euphemism for eloping, about like "running off to Vegas. " I don't remember the details, but I learned that Scotland had different marriages laws than England--the bride could be younger, for one thing, and there might not have been this "cooling off" period England requires now.

Couples in England who want to marry as soon as the new law kicks in need to register today, so that they will have waited out a mandatory 15-day opportunity reflect on the question of "Do I REALLY want to vow publicly to live out the rest of my life with this person I've just spent six months planning a wedding with?"

The legalization is having all kinds of ramifications, and I don't mean that it's making right-wing religious wackos emerge from the comfort of their living rooms with pitchforks and picket signs in hand. No, retailers are stepping up to embrace the change, because it's "expected to generate a multimillion-pound economy in wedding ceremonies, receptions and gifts, with businesses keen to cash in on the market."

There are news stories about this all over the web, including this one from The Independent and this one from

Many stories mention the responses of various churches to the event:

Some religions are getting involved, with the Liberal Judaism sect the first to offer a liturgy for partnership ceremonies, while the Methodist church is currently conducting a review of ways in which it could offer blessing services for same-sex couples.

The Church of England has ruled that clergy should not hold official blessing services for couples, but can pray for them.

That's a funky response from a religion whose beginning was all wrapped up in one man's desire to change marriage laws. It's about like the Mormon church's defense of traditional marriage even though its doctrines claim that polygamy is an unchangeable law of God humanity must submit to if it wants to be redeemed.

This story from Reuter's claims that the union is not a marriage, because "Civil partnership is formed when a couple sign certain documents in an exclusively civil procedure, whereas a marriage becomes binding when partners exchange spoken words in a civil or religious ceremony." All the other stories I've read refer to what gay couples will achieve on December 21 as "marriage."

But the Reuter's article also mentions that "The Church of England has provoked fury among Anglican traditionalists by allowing gay priests to register under the new civil partnership law as long as they remain celibate." You can get married, but can't sleep with your partner? Whatever.

Neti: Gross, But Effective; or,Try This at Home

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As I mentioned, I caught a cold during my travels, a fairly comment event when you're stuck in cramped quarters for eight hours with hundreds of strangers breathing their own personal bacteria colonies into air that gets recycled over and over throughout the plane.

It hasn't been a good time to be sick. I canceled classes Thursday, not something I like to do in the penultimate week of classes. I suppose I could have showed up for classes anyway, but what I would have done in the classroom wouldn't have been teaching, because I WAS sick, I felt like crap, and I had trouble forming a coherent thought.

So I stayed home and poured water into my sinuses.

No one likes a cold, but I sometimes think I have an especially hard time with them, because I can't take most cold medicines. Most decongestants are also stimulants, and for me they exacerbate rather than mitigate the suffering a cold causes. One of the things you need to recover from a cold is sleep, and if I take a decongestant, sleep is something I don't get.

Several years ago in Iowa City, my beloved yoga teacher explained a technique for a particular kriya (cleansing exercise) she thought I should try. Called neti, it involves irrigating the sinuses with water. Done regularly, it's supposed to prevent colds, but I have found it hard to incorporate the practice into my daily life. Instead, I use it as needed to relieve the discomfort of congestion and to shorten the duration of any cold I do catch.

Here's what you do:

Welcome Home


Monday I got up at six a.m. so I could leave for the Brussels train station at 7 a.m. to catch my 7:52 a.m. train to the Paris Airport. It was a train de grand vitesse (a really fast train) and it traveled the distance between Brussels and CDG (about 270 kilometers, or 170 miles) in under an hour and twenty minutes.

So at about 9:15 I descended from the train, then ascended the escalator into the airport and what a nasty shock that was, about like having someone's laptop fall on your face when you open the overhead compartment at the end of a flight and all the items stowed during the trip have shifted. I've been to quite a few airports in my life, and usually there's some kind of prominent signage telling you what terminal various airlines use. Not so in Roissy-Charle de Gaulle! You need to arrive at the airport already familiar with its layout, especially since the few "Information" desks randomly dotting the terminals tend to be closed.


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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